Robert Smail's Printing Works


Robert Smail's Printing Works
7-9 High Street
EH44 6HA Innerleithen
Phone: 01896 830206
  • Starting his apprenticeship
  • Living history
  • Smail's in its heyday
  • In the workshop
  • Heidelberg press
  • Sample guardbook
  • Robert Smail's was once the go-to printer for pretty much anything

Innerleithen is the home of Robert Smail's Printing Works, a fully operational letterpress printers, first established in 1866 and celebrating 150 years of printing in 2016!

A unique visitor experience, the property includes a gift shop, office and printworks (paper store, caseroom and machine room) acquired by the National Trust for Scotland in 1986 on the retiral of Cowan Smail, the third generation of the family which had owned the firm for 120 years. During that time, Smail's carried out print jobs for the whole community, in addition to publishing a weekly newspaper from 1893 until 1916.

Our archive includes 52 guardbooks containing a copy of every printed job for nearly a century (the Smail family were notorious hoarders). In the office, job dockets, invoices, wages books and ledgers dating back to the start of the business are stacked on shelves. Drawers full of slates and pencils, nibs, sealing wax, bottles of ink and ARP tape confirm that Smail's was the place to buy anything and everything. Replica guardbooks, newspapers and shipping tickets can all be viewed.

Visitors can also see rack upon rack of founders' type arranged around the caseroom, and shelves of poster type lining the walls. Here, everything was punctiliously set by hand (and still is!) for the family made little attempt to enter the twentieth century. The last job set by Cowan Smail is still in its galley: ‘Closing Down Sale from Today'.

Everyone who visits Smail's is encouraged to try hand-setting for themselves and, if time allows, the compositor will proof these efforts to see who has (or hasn't) passed their apprenticeships!

In the machineroom, visitors will see the presses in action from the Treadle Platen, through the Wharfedale Reliance (bought in the 1870s) to the Heidelberg Platen, bought at an exhibition in 1952. When the presses are in action you will see the old belt and pulley system – a throw-back to when Smail's ran on water power.

Come and visit one of the National Trust for Scotland's smaller and more unusual properties, a fully operational letterpress printing works, and try setting type as it would have been in the time of Chepman and Myllar.


Opening times (25 March to 31 Oct): 11am–5 pm (Mon, Fri and Sat), 1–5pm (Sun)

Last admission: Shortened tour in operation after 4pm

Admission Prices: Free to National Trust for Scotland members (and other National Trusts worldwide). Non-members, adult: £6.50; child/concession: £5.00; one-parent family: £11.50; family: £16.50

Accessibility: Most areas of the tour are accessible to wheelchair users


As well as fascinating hands-on guided tours during the season, Robert Smail’s also runs a variety of special events at other times. See website for details. 



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